In the wake of successful, back-to-back events celebrating Baltimore’s role in the War of 1812, a nautical nonprofit is again wooing foreign dignitaries to steer their ships toward the Inner Harbor.
Sail Baltimore arranged for more than 70 tall ships and naval vessels to visit the city during the Star-Spangled Sailabration in 2012 and the Star-Spangled Spectacular last September. The two events, which also offered fireworks and air shows by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, reportedly generated a total financial impact of $333 million.
“The Sailabration blew everybody out of the water,” said Michael McGeady, the organization’s president.
But they’re still going: On Wednesday Sail Baltimore brought naval attachés from almost 30 countries to tour the Inner Harbor Wednesday and get a taste of Charm City.
Visitors had breakfast at Top of the World, lunch at Phillips Seafood and tours of the National Aquarium and M&T Bank Stadium as well as a water taxi ride around the Inner Harbor.
“It’s really a familiarization tour for those folks. We want them to bring their ships here,” McGready said.
Sail Baltimore arranges about 24 ship visits per year to promote education, cultural exchange and commerce, McGeady said. The ships are provided a free berth, including water and electricity, for their stay, and free tours of the ships are arranged for the public, he said.
The organization usually shows off the city to foreign attachés stationed in Washington, D.C., every two years, McGeady said. Many countries schedule the destinations of their historic ships about two years ahead of time, so the organization is working to recruit ships for 2016 and 2017.
A “fleet week” is in the works for October of 2016 — coinciding with the group’s 40th anniversary — and will showcase the U.S. Navy as well as foreign ships, McGeady said.
While several attachés said they were impressed with both Baltimore and the National Aquarium, which they toured late Wednesday morning, getting ships to the U.S. isn’t always easy.
Italy has sent a historic tall ship to the city in the past, but the situation in the Mediterranean —including an influx of refugees from Libya and the expansion of the Islamic State’s networks in northern Africa — as well as a weakened European economy has put a stop to such expeditions in recent years, said Capt. Valter Zappellini.
But an Italian destroyer is scheduled to join a U.S. Navy carrier group for training in the spring of 2016 and could make a stop on the east coast, Zappellini said.
Commodore Sandeep Mehta, an attaché from India’s navy, said his country’s ships don’t often have a reason to stray as far away from their home waters as the United States, but there was a tall ship that might visit the East Coast in the future.
A tall ship from Norway, however, was present at the 2012 and 2014 celebrations and will return to Baltimore later this year, said navy Capt. Bjorn Egenberg. Norway also sends a modern naval frigate to Baltimore every two years, which is expected to return in 2016, he said.
“It’s a perfect location for ships and crews,” Egenberg said. Visiting midshipmen from Norway’s naval academy could also easily travel from Baltimore to New York City or the District during their visit, he said.
“They are very well taken care of, and our crews love the Inner Harbor area,” Egenberg said.